Risa Levine, chair of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Community Recovery Task Force. (photo from Jewish Federation)
The Jewish community and its agencies have been dramatically affected by the COVID pandemic and its economic implications. But not a single agency has folded – and not a single employee has lost their job – in part because of the coordinated efforts of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
That is the assessment of Risa Levine, who is chairing Federation’s Community Recovery Task Force. Levine, a retired justice who served on the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the B.C. Court of Appeal, was chosen to lead the major initiative, which will address the impacts of the pandemic on community agencies and help guide a possible rethinking of how programs and services might be delivered more efficiently or effectively in future.
The resilience of Jewish agencies stands in stark contrast to a much bleaker climate for nonprofit agencies in the general community. Among the many individuals and agencies the task force has heard from is Alison Brewin, executive director of Vantage Point, a resource agency for nonprofits in the province. “Alison told us that they expect about 25% of the nonprofits in British Columbia not to make it, to shut down,” said Levine. “Some already have and they expect that many of them won’t continue to operate.”
One of the things that Federation did almost immediately at the beginning of the emergency was intervene with a disbursement of emergency funds – $505,000, plus additional tranches released by individuals and families through their respective funds at the community foundation. In addition to this season’s annual campaign, canvassers are asking donors, if they are able, to make an additional contribution to the COVID emergency fund.
Levine was asked by Alex Cristall, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, to head the task force.
“I was on the allocations committee for Federation for 10 years, so that’s really directly related to what I’m doing now,” she said. “I had time and I think it’s crucial work to be done for our community, so I was honoured to be asked.”
Other task force members are Andrew Altow, Jill Diamond, Michelle Gerber, Hodie Kahn, Candace Kwinter, Shawn Lewis, David Porte, Justin L. Segal and Isaac Thau.
As well as confronting immediate needs of agencies, the task force presents an opportunity to consider the future more comprehensively, said Levine.
“The task force is taking a longer-term, holistic, strategic approach to look at how the community might look or how we think it should look coming out of this,” she said. The team is uniquely qualified to confront the challenges because of the diverse identities and experiences of the people on the task force, she said.
Task force members, collaborating with staff members Marcie Flom, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver, and Shelley Rivkin, Federation’s vice-president, planning, allocations and community affairs, are reaching out to all community partner agencies.
The crucial initial step is to determine how each agency has been impacted by COVID, what their immediate needs are, and what their requirements are likely to be for them to survive and continue their work.
“It’s just amazing and very impressive how resilient and responsive the agencies have been,” Levine said. “They are affected in different ways, depending on what their function is in the community and what they are doing.”
Jewish Family Services is on the very frontline, she said, addressing food security and housing for the most vulnerable in the community. They have expanded beyond their food bank to provision of meals, and providing delivery, which they did not do before.
“They are providing financial support for people, mental health support and so on,” said Levine. “Their client load has doubled, at least, since March and they’ve had to add to their staff and they are all working remotely. It’s been huge. And they’ve been amazing in terms of what they have been able to do.”
Synagogues have also stepped up in preparing and delivering meals to congregants, especially seniors and others who are particularly vulnerable and lack mobility because of transportation challenges and the reduced accessibility to routine services, she said.
She cited the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s nearly instant transition to online delivery of services. Smaller agencies, however, face greater challenges because they may not have the hardware, software and institutional capacity to make that kind of technological shift. Helping those agencies adapt to the technological and parallel needs was one of the priorities addressed at the outset, Levine said.
As the emergency campaign unfolds, the task force will continue assessing the situation.
“Ultimately,” said Levine, “the task force will be making recommendations for distribution of those monies, the Community Recovery Fund, and that will be based on the information we are gathering now about what the needs are and our assessment of how those funds can be strategically distributed to meet the needs of the community as they have changed and evolved through this crisis.”